Fire Mary Suhm? Not a Chance, Because the Big Money Likes Her.

Categories: Schutze

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Over the weekend I have been chatting with people who were all counting on their fingers. Does City Manager Mary Suhm take a powder over this month's gas drilling revelations?

No.

They were counting their fingers secretly and spoke to me only off the record, because they know they can't win. Not that the revelations were not bad. They were. Just not bad enough.

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This book has nothing to do with Dallas City Hall, but we just kind of dig the title.
In one, Suhm signed a deal five years ago promising to help a drilling company get the right to drill in parks, even while she was assuring the City Council there would be no drilling in parks. In the second, she took a lease to the council for final approval and failed to mention it contained something that had not been in the original draft the council was shown before -- drilling on parkland.

See also:
- Mary Suhm Screwed Dallas, but Now City Hall Has to Let the Gas Drillers Frack Parkland
- Mary Suhm Signed a Secret Side Deal to Push for Drilling on Parkland as She Told Council It Would Be Banned

So on the one hand, the council looks stupid. The parkland permission was in there. They didn't spot it because they didn't read the lease. Lots of people -- many of them commenting here on Unfair Park last week -- were talking in terms of the last straw. This is it. The city manager has openly duped the council. Now it's out in the open. The council will have to sack her.

Nope. Council don't gotta do nuthin'. They don't mind being dupes, as long as they get their zoning deals and their stop signs. No lawsuit really and truly frightens them: It is not their money. Meanwhile nobody could win a vote to fire Suhm, and they all know it.

The city's charter states: "The city manager shall not be appointed for a definite fixed time, but shall be removable at the will and pleasure of the City Council upon a two-thirds vote of the members of the council unless otherwise provided by contract."

We have 15 members, counting the mayor. It takes 10 votes to can her. It takes six votes to keep her where she is. By my count, Suhm has at least nine votes in her pocket, probably more like 11, possibly 12.

The first thing to know is that the powers-that-be and biggest sources of campaign money are very happy the ways things are going right now. Compared with past councils, they've got this one lined up like plywood ducks.

The powers almost certainly will want to keep Suhm where she is for a couple of years, and not because she does favors for gas drillers. The gas drillers are nobodies where City Hall is concerned. If anything, they're a bunch of doofus Goldilockses who got into the house while the bears were away and made a mess of everybody's porridge.

The key thing right now, as always, is the Trinity River project and Trinity toll road. That's where the money rides. And just lately, proponents of the toll road have been scoring big victories out of view of the general news cycle, moving chess pieces into place in long-range regional transit planning and the sequestering of money for the road. They're close to getting a prize they have sought for 50 years. The last thing they want right now is a palace coup.

The other thing is this: I spoke off-the-record to one of Suhm's biggest critics on the council over the gas deal, and that person made the point that there is no hint or suggestion of criminal mischief on Suhm's part. As my caller suggested, Suhm was only doing what she thought was best for the city. My caller didn't think it was best for the city, but that's a political debate, not a court case.

This is not an installment of The Wire. It's a whole different "get" from anything like kickbacks or bribes. Even Suhm's toughest critics on the council believe she is an honorable person. They just don't like what she does with her honor.

The basic white conservative bloc on the council is not going to vote to sack her, because voting to sack her would be, for them, way too hippie-long-hair radical. So that's the two old white guys and at least two white women. Four votes right there.

None of the black council members will vote against her, because none of them will ever vote against The Money. I looked at campaign finance reports for several council members this morning: In the January 15, 2013, semi-annual report, Dwaine Caraway got 100 percent of his money from outside his district; Carolyn Davis got 52 percent of her money from outside her district; and Tennell Atkins got 80 percent of his money from outside his district, 47 percent of it from North Dallas.

That's all coming from people who need the council to line up on their issues. Black votes are cheap, because it takes so little money to swing an election in southern Dallas. On big ticket items like Suhm's job, the black caucus will line up.

That's three more votes right there, so Suhm's already over the top by a vote. And she's going to pick up at least two Hispanic votes. The mayor will vote to keep her. In fact, Suhm would win a vote-to-fire 12-3 or maybe 13-2.

I asked people if they thought Suhm will want to stay. Again, even her toughest critics say yes. They say Suhm believes she has done no wrong and was only looking out for the city's best interests. She will never voluntarily leave under a cloud.

So what does that leave for the people who are furious over the gas drilling deal? It leaves the gas drilling deal. I talked to several people the weekend who told me I'm full of shit about the whole deal-is-a-deal can't-flake-now argument on the drilling lease the city has signed. They think the gas drilling company is into the shenanigans in this thing up to its eyeballs and couldn't win a nickel in court if they sued.

But the bottom line is this. The critics are not going to go away without blood. They know they can't get Suhm's head, and they may not really have their hearts in trying. But they do want this gas drilling deal undone, at least where parkland is concerned. So that is where the battle will go, and there is the bone The Money could throw them. "Hell no, you can't have our porridge. How about Goldilocks?"

If the drilling critics don't get a bone? Then next May it's all a big issue in the council elections. The appetite for more strong dissent on the council will be whetted, and that could be the best thing to come out of all this.

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45 comments
treed21
treed21

The plantation politics in this city is sickening!

tbarker1
tbarker1

Folks, once again, great exchange of facts and opinions. Would sit down with you anytime and buy the beer.

bracach
bracach

So What.  Force the damn vote.  Even if it is 13-2.  That will tell every voter in Dallas which 11 rear ends they need to throw out into the street.  Force them all to cast an indefensible vote that looks and smells like a fresh pile of doo-doo. 

But even better... why not discuss using this as an opportunity to get rid of the city manager position altogether?  What would Dallas stand to gain/lose?

WylieH
WylieH

Sigh... Jim, your narrative is pretty depressing.  Unfortunately, it's also spot on.

Explains very concisely why the level of municipal services in Dallas is so abominably bad and why no one at City Hall ever seems to care when citizens complain.

The role of the City Manager and those who report to her (everyone) is to divert as much taxpayer revenue and City-owned property into the hands of a small group of very wealthy and powerful insiders as is possible without provoking public outcry.  Everything else (actually managing the City) is a bit of a side show, which has to be performed (albeit reluctantly) to a base minimum level that keeps residents from literally storming the castle.

I think in the drilling case she mis-calculated.  It is one thing to strip the City of hundreds of millions of dollars in tax revenue to provide bonuses to property developers via TIFs, support a Ft. Worth-based airline monopoly, and decapitalize the City via extremely one-sided property trades--- they are all done via confusing devices, and there is really nothing to physically "see" happening  (all that happens over time is that taxes go up and service levels deteriorate to crap, but no one understands exactly why).  It is possible that Suhm had become so confident in pulling off those prior deals that she viewed drilling in parklands as "just another day at the office."

The key difference is that people can "see" when a refinery and drilling is placed in the middle of a park-- and they become outraged, because it so obviously bad and wrong.


zactrahan
zactrahan

Hold on a minute: Stopping what would be one of the largest sources of hazardous air pollution in the city (processing facility/compressor station) from being built next to our largest outdoor recreation area (elm fork soccer complex) is not a "bone."

BettyC1
BettyC1

In June Council was briefed on additional land ,and told it would need separate contract. When City staff use words like Park Land it means( not in use) as in land being discussed.Council does not know yet, Omission by City staff is best game going. Park's department owns lot of land not being used as active Park. What I find odd is we did not know gas was being drilled at McComas Bluff landfill.

JimSX
JimSX topcommenter

Mid course correction (otherwise known as, "my so-called life"). An astute reader who wishes not to be present at our party here reminds me that Suhm did not take the contract back to the council with Tract 137 in it and hoodoo them into voting for it. She did not take the contract back to them. The council voted to authorize her to negotiate the contract after seeing it with no Tract 137. Then Tract 137 got stuck in there, and the council never saw it again. In other words, I am beating up on the council unfairly by saying they were negligent not to find it. It was never shown to them. I still say we can't rely on the council to figure this out. But it sure would be nice to see everybody in  court with their hands on the Bible.   Hey, that lawsuit's starting t look better, ain't it? C'mon, Oilman. Show us what you got. 

holmantx
holmantx topcommenter

Does she have the power to execute a contract like that or not?

The City Attorney's office knows but they are the last one's to ask.  They are on the other side of the staff shield wall.  The have no allegiance to the citizen, and that is the fault of the method of governance we have - a weak-mayor form.  Unless she's called on it, I say she does possess the systemic power to run this city like she just did.  And people yelling she does not have the authority to execute such a contract without the approval of the Council (even if they didn't read the contract) is bullshit.  She just did!  Jesus people.  What do you mean she can't do it?  What?  It's better to ask for forgiveness than for permission?   I don't care if she walked on water up to this point, or if there was no criminal intent.  This wasn't even a Hail Mary.  This is in our faces.

It may be that politically J. Edgar Hoover ain't got shit on Mary Suhm on knowing where the bodies lie . . . in any case, we need a vote to get the Council on record.  We need to know where they stand.  

The Charter should be reversed because what you are implying, Mr. Schutze, is that the "powers that be" are running a Mary Suhm to keep a de facto 10-4 configuration in place, or the effects there of.

The City Manager should have a contract term limit and it takes a two-thirds majority to extend the contract.

joecook
joecook

Why is the park land wanted so badly? Is the land adjacent to more land and a certain amount is needed? Are the geological reports showing this land to be a prime location? What if the whole deal was contigent on this land? Something just doesn't fit together here.

director21
director21

As Smokey the bear says, "Only YOU can prevent faucet fires!"

director21
director21

I really cannot tell if ole Jim is just playing Devil's Advocate, or if he really believes the bullshit he has been writing for the last few days. Based upon what I know, which is far more than Schutze because I have been actively involved in this matter for several years, I think things may be a lot more thorny for the Council, the CPC, the City Attorney and the City Manager than Jim knows or acknowledges.

There is also the possibility that Jim just wants to stir the post of controversy to get a lot of responses on a story he fears may be cooling off a little, which is what I really believe he is doing. Don't worry, Jim, this will be a very hot potato(e) for a very long time! We ain't goin' nowhere!

schermbeck
schermbeck

1)  "They didn't spot it because they didn't read the lease." This is an error you keep making in your columns on this matter. 

Per Rudy Bush's piece of last week - (In 2008) "The agreement the council authorized that day included a long list of city properties Suhm could lease to the company. But it didn’t include the 22-acre park tract, Suhm acknowledged in an interview." 

(In 2011): "The council did amend the Trinity East lease in 2011, and the 22-acre tract is included in that amended lease. However, the purpose of that amendment had nothing to do with making sure the council knew parkland had been added to the drilling deal. Instead, it was about extending the term of Trinity East’s deal to give the company more time to weather a slumping natural gas market."

Even if they read the lease, Council members wouldn't have known any park land was involved because it was purposely listed as the "Radio Tower tract," not "LB Houston Golf Course tract."  There was no consent, from the public or the Council. And then there followed years of deception about the arrangement.

2) I think there's more to this than has been reported up to now. Lines not reported as crossed yet may eventually get reported as being crossed. Let's see where all this goes after some more shoe leather is applied and/or an independent investigator or a citizens lawsuit is filed and folks have to start responding to subpoenas.

3) Because you haven't been covering the blow-by-blow as these permits worked their way through the process, you haven't seen the distortions of current ordinances being made on the fly by Suhm and company in order to ram these gas permits through. A lot of re-writing is being done. While not as sexy as council vote-counting, these changes could lead to new charges and new lawsuits should the city actually go ahead and grant the Trinity East permits. It's the prospect of not knowing where all of this is going to end up that may provide enough motive for the Citizens Council and the City Council to disconnect themselves from not only the permits, but Suhm's fate as well.

dallasdrilling.wordpress.com
dallasdrilling.wordpress.com

Oh Jim, give it a few more days for more shit to hit the fan, then we'll see how this all works out.  Okay, let's see.... fan oiled up-check, a new bag of shit to throw-check, fan plugged in, check.......

holmantx
holmantx topcommenter

@JimSX She polled the Council people and got an opinion from her house lawyers on unilateral action.  She's not an idiot.  She knew when this hit the papers her nu . . . her head would be on the block.  The Council either gave her a verbal with duct tape on it for political reasons, or she thought, based upon in-house legal advice, she had the authority.

This is why we need every voting member on the Council, starting with the mayor, on record - beginning with a complete statement to the press:

Were you contacted in this matter by Mary Suhm?  What precisely did you know and when did you know it?

Then take it to court.

And subpoena her tapes.  She no doubt tapes all her conversations ala Dick Nixon and LBJ.  EVery lawyer does.  I do on selected conversations.  Self preservation dictates that you do.

And get her emails.


JimSX
JimSX topcommenter

@joecook 

Yes. The good stuff is under the park. They've been after it from the beginning.


JimSX
JimSX topcommenter

@director21 

I'm not playing with you. I am relaying the honest opinions of several people who are pretty close to this, plus my opinion. Tell you what: count on your own fingers. Tell me how Suhm, gets fired by the council. If you can't tell me that, describe for me how else she gets bounced. I honestly do not see it. I see a lot of wish projection going on, which I understand, but then we do have to talk about real life every once in a while, too.

JimSX
JimSX topcommenter

@schermbeck 

I'm not saying Suhm didn't pull their skirts up over their heads by disguising the tract in question. I think I have reported that several times. But the tract was in there. It was not un-discoverable.  The first time I saw the contract, I figured out the Radio Tower Tract was park land with a simple DCAD search. Given the amount of lip service they gave to protecting park land, the council had a duty to grill Suhm closely, by which I do not mean Dave Neuman saying, "Are you drilling on park land," Suhm saying, "I won't tell you," and Neuman saying, "OK then." It was in there. They were told the contract had changed. If you bring me a house contract and tell me it has changed, I'm going to read through the whole damn thing and look for what';s new, and then I'm going to wonder why something new has been added. I guess you're mad at me for not devoting my life to this matter sooner, but the fact is that the council was derelict. My point today is that the council knows it was derelict, knows Suhm pulled its skirts up over its head, and will do not one thing about it.

ThePosterFormerlyKnownasPaul
ThePosterFormerlyKnownasPaul topcommenter

@joecook @BettyC1 Ummm ... the gas from McCommas Bluff is different.  As the organic matter in the landfill is broken down by decay under anaerobic conditions methane and carbon dioxide is generated.

joecook
joecook

@holmantx You make a good point in that there was no way this was not going to come out.

dallasdrilling.wordpress.com
dallasdrilling.wordpress.com

@JimSX @joecook It's not the gas that they want. The gas wells are camoflage. You are missing the point. It's getting the gas compressor installed so that they can be the movers of the gas from A to B to C to D to E. Have you not seen the film Chinatown?

director21
director21

@JimSX @director21 Okay, Jim, then tell us - are you relying upon what has been told to you by each member of the City Council, or are you just assuming based upon your own personal perspective? Inquiring minds want to know!

schermbeck
schermbeck

@JimSX@schermbeck "I guess you're mad at me for not devoting my life to this matter sooner." Not at all, and I appreciate your horse race coverage of Council popular support for Suhm, and all of the DO coverage. It's been a saving grace. The most basic skill in politics is the ability to count. But there is more to it than that, and that "more" could influence events and that support. I want you and everyone else to be better able to see that "more." There have been a lot of opportunities for  made-for-Schutze-rants as this stuff has snaked its way through the process with one big clue after another being dropped about the "secret agreement," or when, for example, Ed and Claudia Meyer went to City Hall and came back with the news about the sizeof the "Rawlings Refinery" that nobody on staff had bothered to tell the public. This is a great story of gritty residents holding the combined powers of industry and government at bay for at least 3-4 years with nothing but dogged determination, and then unraveling a major City Hall scandal. And it gets a lot more scandalous the closer you get to the action. IMHO, (and you know how much I respect your craftsmanship having seen enough of my pale imitations) your City Hall-centric coverage would better if you had seen all the red lights being run on the way to this point. As for the degree of Council culpability, If you want to hide something from part-time legislators who trust full time staff to be at least mildly forthright with them, it's not that hard to do so. I've worked with enough Councils and Legislative members to know that unless you have reason to be suspicious - or your hindsight - its very hard to find things that staff is being paid to hide. I think this passes the test of "reasonable expectations." 

JimSX
JimSX topcommenter

@director21 @GuitarPlayer 

Then we can change the city's motto to:

DALLAS: a division of the Federal Bureau of Investigation.

holmantx
holmantx topcommenter

@darrd2010 @holmantx The City dumped emails after the HQ Hotel bond election, ostensibly due to lack of data storage space.

They couldn't afford a terrabite drive, I suppose.

joecook
joecook

You are correct-I remember the rock-crushing plant. NOW I SEE WHY EVERYONE IS SO UPSET. What a sneaky, sneaky deal.

dallasdrilling.wordpress.com
dallasdrilling.wordpress.com

@joecookYes ....The entire City Hall from Planning Commission to City Council kicked out Weir Brothers Rock Crushing plant in September 2012 because they felt the pollution from the rock crushing plant would do harm to the people next door at the Elm Fork Soccer Complex. Sheffie Kadane got all warm and fuzzy about protecting kids. The proposed rock crushing plant would be replaced by the gas compressor.

joecook
joecook

So is the refinery/processing plant going to be ON THE PARK LAND? Is THAT the deal????? Appalling, if so.

dallasdrilling.wordpress.com
dallasdrilling.wordpress.com

@JimSX @director21 Schutze is right. If you thought that more than 2 or 3 Council members were going to have "integrity", think again. They think by not responding to emails, or not responding to information laid on their desk, they pretend that it doesn't exist. Problem? What problem?

JimSX
JimSX topcommenter

@director21 @JimSX 

No, I have not polled the council. But please, go ahead and count it out.   She gets the white establishment bloc (four votes) without getting out of bed in the morning. She gets the black bloc (four votes -- I left out Hill). That's eight. She's already home free. She gets at least two of the three Hispanic votes (that's ten or eleven in her pocket). She gets the mayor. She's at 11 or 12. I think she might get Greyson. So on vote day she's at 12 or 13. Tell me where I'm off. I've been off before. I can take it.  

timdickey
timdickey

@darrd2010 @JimSX @schermbeck THIS is a great point.  It's just crazy that our elected representatives' staff reports to the City Manager--this has always been a huge flaw in the system.


director21
director21

@JimSX @schermbeck Ultimately, this fight will not be won or lost based upon what is right. It will be won or lost on legal and financial terms, and nothing else.

If it was win-able  on what is right, then we would have been over and done with this matter in 2010. I don't think those of us who have been leading this fight for more than three years have any delusions about what is at stake or how difficult the battle is - we have been on the front line the whole time without much break.

Now, we are seeing the legal issues start to come out, and we already know the financial issues - natural gas is selling for less than one third its breakeven technical production cost, and then there are matters of taxes, royalties and other associated costs that raise the total production cost even more.

It is a fool who believes the city is going to make any money off royalty income, but nobody in the media is even bothering to explore that fact. All you have to do is contact other cities and get the public information on royalty income over the past 5 years and see which way revenues are trending. You can get the same info from the RCT, though it takes a LOT more work to get it and decipher it.

I'll give you a starting point - according to the economics report prepared by Deborah Rogers, in 2009, Fort Worth made $53 Million on royalty revenues. In 2010, they got $19 Million. In 2011, they got $38 Million. But, in 2011, Fort Worth only got about 71% as much royalty revenue as they did just two years earlier with FOUR TIMES AS MANY PRODUCING WELLS.

If you do the math, that means each well was producing about 17-18% as much revenue as just two years earlier. Fort Worth sits right on top of the Barnett Shale motherlode. Dallas sits on the far eastern edge of the shale where there is likely to be no viable flow at all. Dallas will get all the pollution, road damage, air pollution, water contamination and permanent loss, illnesses and property devaluations, but none of the benefits that some Barnett Shale communities have seen in past years.

If you REALLY want to discuss the issue, then let's talk about the ENTIRE issue, not just convenient bits and pieces. T. Boone Pickens once stated, "Nobody will ever make any money drilling for oil and gas in Dallas." Maybe somebody ought to listen to what a famous oil and gas man says on this subject. He MAY actually know what he is talking about.

joecook
joecook

I like the comment, "This is in our faces." Her actions go way beyond lobbying to, what looks to me like, trickery. NO city puts up with that unless the people go along with it.

JimSX
JimSX topcommenter

@schermbeck @JimSX 

All great points. I'm certainly not defending Suhm's action. What depresses me sometimes is that people go out into the field and get their heads banged in, never realizing that the basic game is already fixed behind their backs at City Hall.  I know you know that better than most. But it's a difficult abstraction to sell to most people. This issue has huge value if it illuminates the underlying political problems in Dallas. I just don't want people to suffer the delusion that they can win by being right.

holmantx
holmantx topcommenter

@JimSX @director21 @GuitarPlayer The state attorney general should investigate.  Call me crazy but I don't think un-named Councilpersons can or should decide if she's street legal.

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